A Confederate Nurse: The Diary of Ada W. Bacot, 1860-1863. Edited by JEAN V. BERLIN. Women's Diaries and Letters of the Nineteenth-Century South. CAROL BLESER, Series Editor. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. xv, 199 pp. $29.95.
"TIS said woman has no business with such matters, but what woman in South Carolina does not have the interest of her state at heart" (p. 19). Ada White Bacot wrote these words in December 1860 as she contemplated the possibility of war and the opportunity for service. Within a year Bacot had departed for Charlottesville, Virginia, where she worked as a nurse with the South Carolina Aid Association until 1863. Her journal of these events, edited and annotated by Jean V. Berlin, conveys Bacot's sense of mission and excitement during this time of exceptional opportunity for a white southern woman.
Ada Bacot was born in 1832 to Peter Samuel Bacot and Anna Jane White Bacot, wealthy slaveholders in the Darlington district. She married in 1851 but by 1858 had suffered the losses of her two children and her husband. Widowed and in conflict with her brother and father, Ada Bacot sought a position in one of the Virginia hospitals established for South Carolina soldiers. From 1861 to 1863, she boarded at the Maupin House and eventually served as assistant matron in the Monticello Hospital, previously Charlottesville's main hotel.
As one in a series on the personal writings of nineteenth-century southern women, this volume offers insight into the worldview of an upper-class woman who, while remaining securely ensconced in the gender conventions of the white southern lady, embraced new opportunities for work and travel. Even in the unusual circumstances of war, Bacot remained keenly aware of female propriety. She often commented disapprovingly on another young, single volunteer, Essie Habersham, whose lively spirit brought great discomfort to Bacot. Striving to fulfill her duties with modesty, Bacot articulated even immense satisfaction in her successful hospital work in the language of Christian humility. Furthermore, as a slaveholding woman, Ada Bacot expected servility and obedience from enslaved workers …